Choices: Direct Thermal or Thermal Transfer Printing? Which do I use?

If your label is not going to be constantly exposed to any heat (from fluorescent lights, UV rays), moisture and the label life is short (1 to 6 months), direct thermal labels are your solution. If you need a longer life (like year(s), exposure to UV rays, moisture, solvents), you would print with a thermal transfer printer with the appropriate thermal transfer ribbon for that label for a long life, durable label.


Label width and Label length

Label width is the measurement from the left edge to the right edge of the label as it comes out of the printer. The length is the top edge to bottom edge of the label and it can be in inches or millimeters, but most work in inches. If you label size is not a stock size, then it's automatically a custom label.

Labels per Row

Did you that if you have small labels, you can run more that one label per row on a label roll" For instance, on a 2"W x 1"L, you can add another 2"W x 1"L adjacent to the first label on the same row and use a 4"W ribbon instead of a 2"W ribbon. Some stock labels come 2-Wide. Just ask us. If not, it would be custom, but you would have less rolls of labels to store.

Custom Shape

If your label has a custom shape or outline, other than a rectangular format, then it would be a custom label. You can have circles, triangles, odd shapes. Circular shapes make a pleasant presentation when you're labeling a box of backed goods, for instance, by having your logo printed closest to the label edge around the circle with a colored border as well. You can print your own message, ingredients, product name in the middle of the label.

Printer Sensing Method

How will the start position of the label be sensed by the printer? You have a choice of gap between rows of labels, black sensor mark on back of liner, a hole, notches on either or both sides of the label or no sensing method and set the label to the exact size in your printer.

Die Cut

How will your labels be die cut? You have a choice of no cut which is then called continuous label media; black sensor mark on back of liner - you need to make sure you have a black mark sensor in you printer so it recognizes that sensor mark; die cut special shape. Standard die cut is rectangular shape.


Perforations make it easier to neatly separate the labels. And there are many perforation choices: non-perforated (between rows), liner perforated between label rows, facestock and liner perforated horizontally or vertically anywhere on the label or tag. Some divide a 4"W x 6"L label and have it perforated 2" from the top of the label so they land up with 2 labels: a 4"W x 2"L and 4"W x 4"L.


Labels and liner or just the label facestock (material) can have slits cut in them. Provide them multiple size labels from one label or tag.


Surface Material and Conditions - Sometimes it takes more than one label for a Solution

Here's a common scenario we hear - is this your situation?

"I have several products with different surface materials and surface conditions that I'd like one label for -- one is wood, another is foam rubber, and the other is plastic."

As part of labeling application specifications, some times we receive requests for “one label” that will work on a variety of surface materials -- for instance, raw wood, powder coated, rubber or plastic materials. Surface materials have different surface properties. All surface materials are not alike, therefore, one label face stock/adhesive would not necessarily be a solution for all surfaces. In addition, it’s not only the surface material that must be taken into consideration, but it’s equally important to understand all the applicable surface conditions of each surface material to determine the right label face stock and adhesive.

Surface Material

That’s why in our label questionnaire, we ask you choose “one” kind of material or surface that best describes the surface material your product is made of to which a label is to be applied to. Examples of some surface materials to choose from are: anodized, glass, metal (bare), painted, paper, plastic, powder coated, rubber, wood-raw end grain, wood-raw with grain.

If you are looking to label more than one product that has very different surfaces, it could result in two different label solutions. Not always – but most likely - especially if the materials are very different. For instance, wood is porous. Plastic isn’t. The same label adhesive would not work on both surface materials. Because the wood surface has more voids, pits or tiny holes, there's less surface the label is being applied.

In addition, one must also take into consideration the surface condition.

Surface Condition

Surface conditions on a surface material can be one or more of the following: Curved, Dusty, Flat, Frosty-Frozen, Oily-greasy, Rough, Smooth, Sooty, Textured, Waxed, Wet Water. Identifying accurately all the surface conditions are critical in pin pointing the right label solution.

If you’re looking to label a variety of products, remember it is important to first, identify each of the surface materials and second, identify all of the surface conditions for each of the surface materials. This will help to identify the specific label for the specific surface material and surface conditions. One label may not be the solution for all products – sometimes it does take more than one label solution.

Don’t be overwhelmed - we can help you identify these application specifications using our comprehensive label questionnaire that we can review together with you - contact us.

Discussed in our next blog will be other application specifications taken into consideration when finding the right label solution. Those application specifications are: 1) label life, 2) use and apply temperatures, 3) label where used, and 4) label exposure.